Field Sobriety Tests in Massachusetts DUI Cases
Field sobriety tests are often a key part of a Massachusetts drunk driving case. OUI Field Sobriety tests such as the one-legged stand and the “heel to toe,” which is also known as the walk-and-turn are based on the scientific theory that n person's inability to perform the test is related to the person’s level of alcohol intoxication. However, there are many innocent explanations for “failing” field sobriety tests such as fatigue, medical problems, back, foot, or leg problems. Difficulty balancing due to equilibrium problems, having the test administered on an improper surface, and distraction caused by cruiser lights, weather, or traffic are some other potential causes of field sobriety test “failures.”
Police officers are no required to administer field sobriety tests in drunk driving cases. However, when whether the DWI defendant is guilty or not, the jury can consider the lack of field sobriety-related evidence.
A police officer may ask a person to perform field sobriety evaluations when the officer has reasonable suspicion to believe that the person was operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Probable cause is not required for an officer to ask a lawfully stopped motorist to perform the tests, only the lesser reasonable suspicion standard must be satisfied.
Facially, a driver who is stopped for operating under the influence has no right to refuse to perform field sobriety tests. However, the driver cannot be forced to perform such tests and a person's refusal to perform the tests is inadmissible at trial. Therefore, although the Blais case says that a driver cannot refuse to perform field sobriety evaluations, for practical purposes, this is not entirely true.
Because the Miranda requirements do not apply to routine roadside questioning, police officers are not required to give a DWI suspect his or her Miranda rights prior to conducting field sobriety tests.
The United States Constitution provides that "no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." Therefore, a drunk driving suspect's refusal to perform field sobriety tests cannot be admitted against him at a Massachusetts DUI trial. Admission of the refusalto do field sobriety tests would violate the defendant's constitutional protection against self-incrimination.
The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test is inadmissible without expert testimony, because the scientific principles associated with the test are outside of the understanding of a lay person. An expert is required to explain the tests and its results to the fact finder. Expert testimony is required in these cases because the relationship between intoxication and nystagmus is outside of "the common experience of jurors"
Article 12 of the Mass. Declaration of Rights protects citizens against self-incrimination. However, a driver's performance of field sobriety tests including the walk and turn, one-legged stand, and alphabet test is not considered "testimonial." Consequently, asking a driver to perform field sobriety tests does not violate Article 12. Also, Miranda rights are not required, because roadside questioning falls outside of the scope of the Miranda decision.
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